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The House of Representatives worked until just after midnight completing consideration of amendments to the FY2013 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill. Only one step remains -- passage of the amended bill -- which is expected to occur early this afternoon.
The House adjourned at two minutes after midnight following lengthy debate on amendments to the bill as reported from the appropriations committee. Only one amendment debated Wednesday-Thursday would have affected NASA and it was defeated. The amendment, by Rep. John Tierney (D-MA), would have taken $10 million from the Mars Next Decade account and used it for a program in the Department of Justice (the John R. Justice Prosecutors and Defenders program, part of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act). It was defeated 160-260.
The only amendment that succeeded in changing the amount allocated for NASA during floor debate was agreed to on Tuesday. It takes $126 million from NASA's Cross Agency Support account to use for a community policing program in the Department of Justice.
No changes were made to the appropriations commitee's recommendations for NOAA's satellite programs.
House passage of the bill will complete House action on its version of the CJS bill, H.R. 5326, but the Senate still must pass its bill and the two must then reconcile their differences before sending it to the President for signature. The White House indicated before debate on the bill began that it would veto the bill as it was reported from committee. One of its objections was the reduction in funding for commercial crew compared to the President's request; that was not changed during floor debate.
The House of Representatives began debate on the FY2013 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill yesterday. Several amendments that would have cut NASA funding in order to pay for non-NASA programs were defeated, but one was adopted that cuts $126 million from the Cross Agency Support account. The House also defeated amendments that would have made across the board cuts. The House is expected to resume consideration of the bill, H.R. 5326, today.
By a narrow margin, Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY), succeeded in cutting NASA's Cross Agency Support budget by $126 million in order to add money to the COPS community policing program in the Department of Justice budget. The vote was 206-204.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), however, did not succeed with her amendment to cut NASA's aeronautics budget by $44 million and space operations by $38 million in order to add funding for enforcement of financial fraud laws. It was defeated by voice vote.
Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI) also failed in his proposal to reduce NASA's Cross Agency Support budget by $17 million and using that money instead for the International Trade Administration and the U.S. Trade Representative. That amendment initially was adopted by voice vote, but a recorded vote was demanded and it lost 141-261.
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) proposed taking $26 million from NASA's Cross Agency Support budget and allocating $7.1 million of that instead to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The amendment failed 96-314.
A 12.2 percent across the board cut to all spending in the bill was proposed by Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), although it would have exempted NASA, the U.S. Marshall Service, and the FBI. The amendment was defeated 105-307. A separate amendment by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) for a 1 percent across the board cut, with no exceptions, also was rejected. That vote was 160-251.
A list of all the amendments considered yesterday and their disposition is on the House Republican Cloakroom's website. Debate on the bill is scheduled to resume today along with other legislative business.
The Obama Administration has threatened to veto the FY2013 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill that is scheduled for floor debate beginning tomorrow. In its Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) released today, the Administration says that it "strongly opposes" passage of the bill for a long list of reasons including cuts to NOAA's budget and to NASA's budget for commercial crew.
The SAP begins by criticizing the overall funding level for the bill, H.R. 5326. The White House notes that the House adopted lower total spending levels for the federal government than what was agreed to last summer in the Budget Control Act. It says the lower funding level overall will "cost jobs and hurt average Americans. especially seniors, veterans, and children ... [and] degrade many of the basic Government services on which the American people rely such as air traffic control and law enforcement."
It goes on to list specific objections to different parts of the bill and states "If the president were presented with H.R. 5326, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill."
Regarding NOAA and NASA, the statement says:
NOAA: "The Administration strongly opposes the $93 million reduction in funding from the FY 2013 Budget request for NOAA. This cut would impact negatively NOAA's ability to support the Nation's fisheries and oceans stewardship programs such as protected species programs, which would be cut by $16 million below the FY 2013 Budget request and $20 million below the FY 2012 enacted level. Decreased funding for Protected Species Research and Management could lead to delays in permitting or consultations and result in the development of less precise measures, which could have economic impacts on coastal industries such as fisheries, agriculture, oil and gas development, and coastal construction. The Administration appreciates the Committee's support for mission-critical satellite programs."
NASA: "The Administration strongly opposes the level of funding provided for the commercial crew program, which is $330 million below the FY 2013 Budget request, as well as restrictive report language that would eliminate competition in the program. This would increase the time the United States will be required to rely solely on foreign providers to transport American astronauts to and from the space station. While the Administration appreciates the overall funding level provided to NASA, the bill provides some NASA programs with unnecessary increases at the expense of other important initiatives."
The National Research Council (NRC) has recommended a new method of calculating the possibility of microorganisms on spacecraft sent to study icy bodies in the solar system contaminating the objects they are sent to examine -- called forward contamination.
The report, Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for Spacecraft Missions to Icy Solar System Bodies, looks at how to prevent contamination of bodies such as Jupiter's moon Europa, Saturn's moon Enceladus or Neptune's moon Triton. A 2000 NRC report made recommendations about planetary protection requirements for Europa, but much has been learned since then. NASA asked the NRC to relook at the requirements.
Planetary protection requirements for the outer planets have been based on the Coleman-Sagan formula that calculates the probability of a spacecraft mission introducing a single microorganism that could grow in the environment of the target body. According to the new NRC study, the 2000 Europa study recognized the shortcomings of the Coleman-Sagan formula in estimating the risk of forward contamination and this new study recommends a different approach entirely.
Historically, NRC planetary protection recommendations have become international standards through the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) of the International Council of Science (ICSU). In 2009, two workshops sponsored by COSPAR led to recommendations for a simplified version of the Coleman-Sagan formula and then to NASA asking the NRC to look at the issue. This NRC committee found "no scientifically or logically defensible path for improving estimates of factors" for the Coleman-Sagan formula as NASA requested, however. Instead, it recommends a "binary decision matrix" -- a series of yes/no questions -- similar to what the NRC previously recommended (and COSPAR adopted) for samples being returned to Earth.
The new NRC report argues that its binary decision matrix provides a "more robust basis for determining the appropriate level of planetary protection ... because such a procedure would not compound inaccurate and non-independent estimates of probability factors."
The NASA Advisory Council (NAC) Planetary Science Subcommittee (NAC-PSS) will meet tomorrow and Wednesday. It is scheduled to be briefed on this new NRC report tomorrow afternoon at 2:45 pm ET according to the current agenda. The chair of the study was Mitchell Sogin of the Marine Biological Laboratory and the vice-chair was Geoffrey Collins of Wheaton College. Collins is on the NAC-PSS agenda to discuss the report's recommendations.
CORRECTION: Corrects the spelling of Bennet (one t, not two) in the text and email address. Thanks to the reader who pointed it out!
The Aerospace Industries Association and Satellite Industries Association in conjunction with the Senate Aerospace Caucus and Senator Bennet are holding a briefing today at 2:30 pm ET in room SVC 212 of the Capitol Visitor Center. RSVP to Brian_Appel@bennet.senate.gov. Speakers are:
Mr. James Hursch, Director, Defense Technology Security Administration
Maj. Gen. Jay Santee, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
Industry representatives from the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA)
Industry representatives from the Satellite Industries Association (SIA)
Commercial satellite imagery company DigitalGlobe rejected the purchase bid from its rival, GeoEye, today.
In a press release, DigitalGlobe stated that GeoEye's offer "substantially undervalues" the company and "does not adequately recognize DigitalGlobe's superior track record ... as well as its [satellite] constellation's greater capabilities."
GeoEye sent a letter to DigitalGlobe President Jeffrey Tarr on Friday offering to buy the company for $17 per share.
Tarr's response today provided a glimpse of the give and take between the two companies over the past year. Noting that DigitalGlobe rejected previous entreaties from GeoEye beginning in February 2012, the press release says that DigitalGlobe had countered with a proposal for it to acquire GeoEye. It said that it repeated the offer after GeoEye's "public hostile offer" on Friday as long as the two could reach agreement over the weekend. "Given GeoEye's rejection of that proposal, DigitalGlobe terminated discussions and will await the government reaching its budget decision regarding EnhancedView. When the government reaches its decision, DigitalGlobe will consider whether to make a proposal to acquire GeoEye," the press release states.
Tarr went further, saying that the "abruptness" of GeoEye's offer on Friday suggests it was made "in desperation due to highly publicized concerns about potential government decisions that may jeopardize their portion of the EnhancedView program."
EnhancedView is the contract from the government's National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) through which the government purchases satellite imagery from the two companies for military and intelligence purposes. Rumors are rampant that the government will reduce its purchases.
UPDATES: The Planetary Society's luncheon on Capitol Hill on Tuesday has been added, along with NASA's press conference on results from the Dawn spacecraft's mission to the asteroid Vesta on Thursday.
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate both are in session.
During the Week
The FY2013 appropriations cycle continues its march forward this week. The House is slated to debate the FY2013 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill that funds NASA and NOAA and other agencies beginning Tuesday. The House appropriations defense subcommittee will markup the FY2013 defense appropriations act in a closed meeting.
Meanwhile, the full House Armed Services Committee (HASC) will markup the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act on Wednesday at 10:00. Its subcommittees completed markup two weeks ago.
Monday, May 7
Monday-Thursday, May 7-10
Tuesday, May 8
Tuesday-Wednesday, May 8-9
Wednesday, May 9
Thursday, May 10
Thursday-Friday, May 9-10
Friday, May 11
The Washington Post wants NASA's earth science satellites and NOAA's weather satellites to be on the list of issues debated in this presidential election year.
The Washington Post editorial chides the Senate for spending its time debating how to find $6 billion to enable interest rates on student loans to remain at 3.4 percent -- an "old campaign gimmick" -- when earth observation satellite programs are underfunded.
The editorial comes in the wake of the National Research Council's (NRC's) "mid-term review" of how NASA and NOAA are implementing the recommendations of the NRC's 2007 Earth Science and Applications from Space (ESAS) Decadal Survey. The NRC report concluded that U.S. earth observation satellite systems are in a "precarious" situation because of budget shortfalls, lack of affordable launch vehicles, and changes directed by the White House Office of Management and Budget and by Congress.
The editorial does not mention the two most recent political debates over NOAA and its satellite programs: the Senate Appropriations Committee's recommendation to transfer NOAA's satellite programs to NASA because it believes NOAA manages those programs poorly, or Rep. Ralph Hall's (R-TX) criticism of NOAA for issuing a contract proposal to have magicians at a training conference.
SpaceX is targeting May 19, with May 22 as a backup date, for the delayed launch of its next demonstration flight as part of the commercial cargo program.
The launch has been delayed a number of times. In an emailed announcement this afternoon, SpaceX spokeswoman Kirsten Brost Grantham said:
"SpaceX and NASA are nearing completion of the software assurance process, and SpaceX is submitting a request to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for a May 19th launch target with a backup on May 22nd. Thus far, no issues have been uncovered during this process, but with a mission of this complexity we want to be extremely diligent."
UPDATE: A quote from and a link to DigitalGlobe's response to GeoEye's proposal replaces an earlier quote from the Wall Street Journal.
Chris Quilty, Senior Vice President for Equity Research at Raymond James & Associates, reports that GeoEye is making a bid to buy rival DigitalGlobe. GeoEye also said that its deal with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) for imagery under the Enhanced View contract will be fully funded for 2012. Rumors that NGA is going to cut funding substantially for Enhanced View have been rampant for months.
Quilty's report reflects a GeoEye press release today announcing that the company is proposing to purchase DigitalGlobe for $17 per share, a 26 percent premium to DigitalGlobe's closing share price yesterday. Quilty notes that DigitalGlobe has rejected previous bids, but the fundamental issue is whether the government would approve a merger of the only two companies that provide commercial satellite imagery. "The government has made great efforts to ensure a competitive market for weapon systems and services, often creating a 'managed duopoly.' ... This desire ... could prove to be a major hurdle to regulatory approval, even if the benefits ... are tangible and significant," he said.
The GeoEye press release included the text of its letter to DigitalGlobe President Jeffrey Tarr. DigitalGlobe released a statement saying that its Board of Directors "will carefully review and consider the proposal and pursue the course of action that is in the best interests of DigitalGlobe and its stockholders."
GeoEye separately said that NGA notified the company that it would get full funding of its Enhanced View contract for the 2012 contract term and that development of its GeoEye-2 satellite is "on time and on budget for a launch in the first half of 2013."
DigitalGlobe similarly reported earlier this week that NGA said it would fully fund their Enhanced View contract as well for 2012. DigitalGlobe will get $250 million while GeoEye will receive $111 million according to their respective press releases.
Rumors that NGA is planning to cut funding for Enhanced View have been widespread for several months and the companies' announcements are for 2012 only. An April 19 New York Times story portrays the underlying issue as a "clash" between the military and the intelligence community. It quotes GeoEye official Bill Wilt as saying "[t]he debate is really between the military, which needs a lot of imagery but doesn't need the highly classified imagery, and the intelligence community, which wants to keep the capability to produce its own imagery."
The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) builds and operates the government satellites that provide the highly classified imagery. Its director, Bruce Carlson, announced his resignation on April 18. He and National Intelligence Director James Clapper reportedly advocated less reliance on commercial imagery. Betty Sapp, currently NRO's principal deputy director, already has been named to replace Carlson.
Events of Interest
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